Alumni Profiles

Well Matched
Michele Filgate ’06 has just the right book—for you, for me and even for the Pulitzer Prize.

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Casey Kelbaugh

When Michele Filgate '06 falls in love with a book, she can't stop talking about it. And when she talks about a book, people listen. A lot of people. She has more than 12,000 followers on Twitter, under the handle @readandbreathe. ("Reading," she explains, "is in many ways just as essential to me as breathing.") Her book reviews have appeared in many places, including the Daily Beast; O, The Oprah Magazine; Bookslut; NHPR's "Word of Mouth" and But it was a casual conversation she had with one person about one book that may well have changed the course of literary history.

Filgate's love of books goes way back: In many a family home video, she can be seen in the background, walking around with a book in her hand, reading aloud. It was at UNH, where she wrote for The New Hampshire, that she realized that "writing is what I need to be doing." Putting herself through college meant working part time—one of her jobs was at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth—and living off campus. "I had to grow up a little quicker than my friends," she says. She's been on a fast track ever since. But first she had to get on the right track.

A summer internship with Ed Bradley at "60 Minutes" led to a job at "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" right out of college. But she felt pulled back to the world of books, and in 2007, she became the first events coordinator at RiverRun. Before long, the store was hosting or co-sponsoring literary events two to four times a week.

Filgate is skilled at the independent bookseller's art of "hand selling." Once you know one or more of a customer's favorite books, she says, you "pick through all the books you've read and sort that in your brain and match the customer with the perfect book." (Of course, it helps if your cranial library is crammed with good books. In the first six months of 2012 alone, she read 52.)

But Filgate also seems to sell books without even trying. "Reading is my religion," she says. "It's the closest thing to the ecstatic feeling that deeply religious people get." At RiverRun, she fell in love with a small-press book called Tinkers, by Paul Harding. She happened to rave about the little-known book, which had been overlooked by The New York Times and others, in a brief conversation with an editor at a book-reviewing workshop. A few months later she received the news, via Twitter, that Harding had won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, and started jumping up and down and screaming. Unbeknownst to her, the editor at the workshop had been the chair of the Pulitzer jury that year. In a New York Times article titled "Mr. Cinderella: From Rejection Notes to the Pulitzer," the editor credited Filgate with bringing the book to her attention.

In 2010, Filgate moved to New York to take a position as events coordinator at McNally Jackson Books in Soho. Recently, she moved to Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, in part to be able to devote more time to her writing, which includes essays and fiction as well as reviews. How does she find time to read a couple of books a week while holding two part-time jobs, writing and tweeting at a rate of up to 20 times per day? By reading while eating, walking, and best of all, she says, riding on the subway, where there are no distracting emails, texts or tweets. Asked whether she has preternatural energy levels, she smiles.

"Lots of coffee?" she suggests. Then a pause. "I think it's just energy from doing things that I love."

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